Business Agility Defined
Large organizations are increasingly focused on getting more agile. But what is business agility, exactly? To begin with, it’s not Agile — the software development methodology that has replaced more traditional “waterfall” development practices in nearly every software development team.
Business agility borrows some concepts from Agile — breaking down work into discrete units, rapid iteration, continuous feedback loops — but is different in one important way. Where Agile is about how and when work gets done, business agility is also about why and who. Fundamentally, business agility is about eliminating the gap between strategy and execution by making them one and the same.
Benefits most likely to be reaped, if company’s business agility increased
Source: McKinsey, Building a Nimble Organization: A McKinsey Global Survey, 2006
Organizations that work with agility don’t just survive — they thrive. Research conducted by McKinsey found that organizations that work with greater agility are faster to make decisions and develop new products, and that they are healthier overall. They’re better at fostering accountability, innovating and learning, and coordinating and controlling their workforces, among other attributes.
The benefits of business agility are a laundry list of things that every leader cares about, starting with higher revenues, better customer satisfaction, and improved operational efficiency.
How Agile is Your Business?
Here’s a quick method to test your organization’s business agility:
How long would it take for the senior leadership team at your organization to redeploy 50% of the people working on one major initiative to another one?
Doing so would require insight into every project that rolls into every major initiative, how those initiatives align to strategic imperatives, which people — internal and external — are working on each initiative at what capacity, and what skills and capabilities those people bring to the projects to which they are assigned.
HOW AGILE IS YOUR ORGANIZATION?
Find out how you stack up against top companies with Catalant’s Agility Benchmark.
For most large organizations, the answer to the above question is in the range of 3-6 months. For organizations working with agility, the answer should be closer to 1-2 weeks.
Corteva Plants Seeds of Agility
Corteva Agriscience is one of three new companies spun out of the merger of Dow and DuPont. As a new organization with a long legacy, Corteva is in the right position to plant new seeds of growth.
At a recent innovation conference, Corteva CTO Neal Gutterson shared how the organization was moving away from an “eat more, faster” growth strategy and toward a more agile model. The company faced several challenges, including change management from the merger, disruptive market forces, high growth expectations, and an abundance of new, but potentially risky opportunities.
“Embracing disruption and uncertainty has shifted the way we think about strategy,” says Gutterson.
To meet its growth expectations, Corteva is implementing several initiatives aimed at helping the organization be more agile. A new operating mechanism partners scientists with business partners to ensure that new products are being developed to meet a real need in the market. The entire project portfolio is managed at the initiative level, with each project managed like its own startup.
Rather than focusing solely on developing or enhancing products within its core markets, Corteva is focused on tackling adjacent and new markets — distributing its investments in projects according to risk/reward calculations.
Crucially, Gutterson says, investments in new and adjacent product ideas must meet a minimum threshold in volume before they can yield results. He likens it to pearl farming, where a critical mass of oysters is necessary to yield some pearls.
This agile way of thinking runs counter to the way large organizations have grown historically. But in the face of highly disruptive threats, Corteva and other smart companies are adopting business agility and agile ways of working to be faster, more adaptable, and more successful.
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